I’ve brewed 9 batches of beer since I began this brewing adventure back in Christmas, and it has been a learning process. And, as most people will attest to, no learning is complete without some failure.
My second batch was my first attempt at oatmeal stout, and despite the fun we had brewing it, we burnt the oatmeal, and that burnt flavor took over the beer and ruined it. So, lesson learned? Don’t burn grains! Use a grain bag, then remove the grains before you crank the heat up.
My 4th batch was a German style Hefeweizen, which actually came out tasting more like a Weizenbock. It was delicious, but WAY over-carbonated. I did add more than the standard 3/4 cup of corn sugar, but I was still below the 1 cup mark. The over-foaming could be the result of a bacterial infection in the beer. Lesson learned? Better sanitation is needed when I brew.
Batch 5 was an attempt to utilize the ingredients my brother gave me at Christmas in this beer kit. It had some malt extract and some grains. I attempted to make some wort with the grains with the help of my friend Jared, and we attempted to strain them out then add the malt extract. I had no gelatin to use to bottle, and I didn’t put any Irish Moss in to help settle things. The result? Sludge beer. Some bottles had 1/2 inch of sediment in the bottom. The beer ended up tasting like a muddy amber. Ugh! I tossed it all. Lesson learned? Don’t use old ingredients, and when using grains use a grain bag or better filtration.
Batches 6 and 7 were a traditional bitter and an IPA, made from can’s of extract bought at the beer store. My goal here was just to get a bunch of drinkable beer so I will have something in the fridge, freeing me up to experiment more with brewing. Well, it worked. The beers are drinkable. The IPA is NOT an IPA, it tastes more like a hoppy amber. The bitter is ok, nothing to brag about, but I like it. Jared seemed to detect something in his palate when drinking both of these, which he thought might be bacteria. That may be possible, as I ran out of spring water making these and ended up using some tap water in them. There is also that sanitation issue again, as the kitchen was a disaster when I brewed these. But, whatever that slight taste was that he detected, I still drink these beers. They’re not that bad. Lesson learned: Better Sanitation, and clean the kitchen before brewing and bottling.
Now, we move on to batch 8, which was an American style hefeweizen, supposedly a Widmer clone. I got this from the beer store I got the ingredients from. Now, the recipe only included the ingredients, and that’s it. No description of how much beer it was supposed to make, nothing. So, I assumed a 5 gallon batch, did the grains as per Papazian’s directions on doing a mini-mash, then got the wort boiling and added the wheat extract and the hops. Now, instead of pitching the very expensive yeast I bought and calling it good, I got the hair brained idea to culture the yeast first. I attempted to be sanitary when doing so, sanitizing two beer bottles, filling them with filtered water and corn sugar, then putting 1/2 the yeast into it the two bottles to culture, then pitching the other 1/2 into the beer. I left the bottles out for a few hours to ferment- uncovered (what a dingledorf I am sometimes,) then put them in the fridge and capped them. The yeast I pitched into the beer didn’t take off. After 2 days I decided to pitch one of the beer bottles I cultured into it to get the fermentation going. Well, fermentation began, and kept going, and kept going, and kept going. 14 days of active fermentation. I was getting worried. After it was done I bottled it, and tasted it. At first it tasted like strong alcohol mixed with a light wheat beer. I had no idea what was going on and why it turned out like it did. Then I read what Papazian said about culturing yeast, and infections in the yeast turning your beer into a “band-aid” type taste. Grr…. what a freaking moron! I just ruined an expensive batch of beer by trying something on my own before really reading up on how to do it properly and not doing it sanitary enough. Lesson learned: Don’t mess with the yeast, unless you’re properly prepared to deal with it. There is no room for mistakes with the yeast.
Now my batch I brewed Saturday is batch 9, my second attempt at an oatmeal stout. I followed Papazian’s recipe for his mini-mash oatmeal stout. The only problems I ran into is I slightly melted my grain bag, as it was resting at the bottom of my pot when I turned up the heat to heat up the wort. I didn’t detect any off flavors in the beer, which is good. But I did ruin my grain bag. I also had difficulties in filtering the wort before I boiled it as well as sparging the grains, as I don’t really have a lauder-tun, nor do I have a filter type thingey which fits over my bucket nicely to allow me to focus on pouring. I ended up holding a colander with cheese cloth in it while someone else poured. Not the best method of filtering. I was super-anal about sanitation this time, I kept sanitizing agent in my beer bucket right until the point I was ready to pour my beer into it, and I sanitized EVERYTHING! And I got some yummy tasting oatmeal stout.
So, lesson learned? Get the right equipment for the job, be extra careful about how clean your work area is, be extra careful how you sanitize things, always have specific directions on your recipes, and don’t take any unnecessary chances.
This isn’t rocket science, it’s beer, and that means it’s important!